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North Korean arms buildup raises tension in West Sea

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Published : 2012-11-15 19:38
Updated : 2012-11-15 19:38

North Korea has deployed more military assets to its frontline units on the West coast, raising, tension ahead of the December presidential election in the South.

President Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly called on his government to thoroughly prepare against Pyongyang’s attempt to intervene in the forthcoming election, while his conservative Saenuri Party claims a competitive edge in national security.

Pyongyang stepped up its rhetoric against the ruling party, saying that Saenuri candidate Rep. Park Geun-hye would “reenact the failed North Korea policy” of the current administration.

In the Rodong Shinmun, the North’s ruling Worker’s Party’s newspaper, Pyongyang also said, “Should the next Seoul government take the initiative to improve inter-Korean ties, bilateral economic cooperation will be activated on a full scale.”

News reports here said that ahead of the second anniversary of its artillery attack on Yeonpyeongdo this month, the North has further fortified its coastal regions near the Northern Limit Line.

The North has set up a unit of hovercraft, increased its deployment of multiple launch rocket systems and the number of troops, dispatched two additional battalions of combat helicopters, and established underground bunkers in the border areas, the reports said, citing military sources.

The military movements came after North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and other top military officers apparently including General Staff vice marshal Hyon Yong-chol visited coastal regions and border islands a few months ago.

Pyongyang’s propaganda and military activities around the NLL have triggered security concerns here, particularly when the rival parties were caught in political bickering over the de-facto sea border.

The Saenuri Party has alleged that former President Roh Moo-hyun made remarks denying the NLL as the sea border during the 2007 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. The main opposition Democratic United Party dismissed this, saying the ruling party was trying to use the so-called “North wind” to affect the election outcome.

The NLL has been a flashpoint as the North has repeatedly disputed it on the grounds that the line was unilaterally drawn by the then U.S.-led U.N. Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. It argues that the line should be drawn further south.

Pyongyang has apparently been carefully watching the tight presidential race as its fledgling leadership needs financial assistance to strengthen its legitimacy amid growing public discontent over poverty and suppression.

President Lee has maintained a strict, reciprocal policy linking aid to the North’s denuclearization, which has been backed by Washington.

Meanwhile, according to a report by the Korea Development Institute, the troop number in the North is estimated at up to 1.16 million, which is higher than the 700,000 Pyongyang suggested in a nationwide census conducted in 2008.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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